A major television media company, responsible for several well-known network shows, has acknowledged on its official website that its storylines deliberately promote and normalize abortion.
Shondaland, a television production company founded by writer/producer Shonda Rhimes, is best known for developing three prominent shows for ABC. The long-running Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder currently air on the network, and Scandal ran for seven seasons before ending in 2018.
Rhimes, a longtime vocal pro-abortion advocate, was appointed to the National Board of Planned Parenthood in 2017. A new article posted on the media company’s website is titled “How Shondaland Shows Changed the Way We View Abortion on TV.” It is fascinating not as a further indication of Rhimes’ personal biases but as an open disclosure of the intentional attempt to weave a progressive social agenda into a major television network’s programming.
“Critical Step Forward”
“Shondaland television shows have single-handedly shifted the representation of people who have abortions, and the shows constantly lead the way when it comes to nuance and complexity,” gushes author Renee Bracey Sherman, a staunch pro-abortion advocate who once sat on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
In her article, Sherman quotes Steph Herold, billed as “a researcher on abortion narratives on television and film,” praising Rhimes for unabashedly positive portrayals of abortion on her ABC shows. Herold said:
“Nearly all of Shonda’s shows feature a character considering an abortion or actually obtaining an abortion. That’s revolutionary for prime time television. [T]he depictions on Shonda’s shows are a critical step forward because they take care to portray abortion not just as a safe and simple medical procedure, but as an experience that can connect people to each other, help people achieve their life goals, or as something a character does and then goes on her way, not thinking about it ever again.”
Sherman, a self-described black feminist, enthused over Scandal‘s positive depiction of a black woman getting an abortion, calling the storyline a “game-changer.” “Until Scandal, few black women were represented having abortions on television, despite black women making up 28 percent of abortion patients,” Sherman writes. Yes, despite the fact that blacks make up only 12% of the U.S. population, they account for more than a quarter of all abortions performed in America. An estimated 19 million black babies have been aborted since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
Sherman extols the positive portrayal of a late-term abortion in the show Private Practice, a spinoff of Grey’s Anatomy that ran from 2007 to 2013 on ABC, and an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that dealt with medicated abortion, the abortion pill. “That’s it? It’s just a pill?” reads the subhead, in quotes, above this section of the article.
Televised Abortion as Personal Liberation
Sherman states on her personal website that she “has written over one hundred articles for the New York Times, the Guardian, EBONY Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Salon, Broadly, Rewire.News, Huffington Post, Bustle, Glamour, and more.” Her bio at the end of a Nov. 20 Glamour article states that she “is a reproductive justice activist and writer focused on the liberation of people who want and have abortions.” Sherman was featured in a 2015 Guardian article titled “The Story of My Abortion” in which various women describe why they had abortions. Sherman is featured at the top, with the blown-up quote: “I simply did not want to be pregnant. It was just that simple.”
Sherman is a strong supporter of the “abortion without apologies” faction and sees even the tacit admission that the procedure should be rare as a sign of weakness. “[Safe, legal and rare] is extremely antiquated in that it’s focusing on shifting politics but not actually thinking about who are the people who are at the center of this issue: people like me who have abortions,” she told NPR in a Nov. 18 podcast.
In a shockingly forthright thread on her Twitter account, Sherman expresses agreement with a comment that praises Grey’s Anatomy for portraying abortion as a form of liberation for women. “[Y]ang’s abortion was a revelation,” the tweet reads. “[S]he did it completely out of love for herself, out of a refusal to sacrifice even one iota of her potential. [P]erfectly valid and yet, i don’t think i had ever seen it before.”
That was a watershed moment for me too, both when she wanted one early on in the second season with Burke and when she got one with Owen. She was always clear about what she wanted, Meredith stood by her, *and* it was the first time I'd seen an Asian character obtain an abortion. https://t.co/cffSvMjcA2
— Renee Bracey Sherman (@RBraceySherman) November 8, 2019
If there are any doubts that Rhimes herself is championing all of this, check out the tweet from Shondaland’s official account promoting the article:
— Shondaland (@byshondaland) November 22, 2019
A June 3 article on the Shondaland website titled “How Television Humanized a Woman’s Right to Choose” also highlights Rhimes’ explicit commitment to promoting a social agenda in her ABC shows. The article decries recent “heartbeat” bills passed in several states that ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. “Thankfully, for almost five decades, television has been at the forefront of changing the way society talks about women’s autonomy over our wombs,” the article offers in response to these pro-life victories. It then lists “12 powerful and diverse examples of storylines that humanize a woman’s right to choose, without the melodrama and unnecessary judgement.”
As veteran network television writer Rhimes has made abundantly clear, the programming really has been programming all along.
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